“We have been the first country in the European Union to opt for more rigorous and strict controls in airports and cities,” he said in an address to the nation. “We have more people infected because we made more swabs.”
The next day, as infections surpassed 200, seven people died and the stock market plunged, Mr. Conte and his health aides doubled down.
He blamed the Codogno hospital for the spread, saying it had handled things in “a not-completely-proper way” and argued that Lombardy and Veneto, another northern region, were inflating the severity of the problem by diverging from global guidelines and testing people without symptoms.
As Lombardy officials scrambled to free up hospital beds, and the number of infected people rose to 309 with 11 dead, Mr. Conte said on Feb. 25 that “Italy is a safe country and probably safer than many others.”
On Friday, Mr. Conte’s office offered an interview on the condition that he could answer questions in writing. When sent questions, including those about his past statements, he declined to respond.
Mixed Messages Sow Confusion
Reassurances from leaders confused the Italian population.
On Feb. 27, Mr. Zingaretti posted his aperitivo picture. That same day, the country’s foreign minister, Luigi Di Maio, the former leader of one of the governing parties, the Five Star Movement, held a news conference in Rome.
“In Italy, we went from the risk of an epidemic to an infodemic,” Mr. Di Maio said, disparaging media coverage that highlighted the threat of the contagion, and adding that only “0.089 percent” of the Italian population was quarantined.
“We are facing an emergency,” Mr. Conte said at the time. “A national emergency.”
A draft of the decree, leaked to Italian media on Saturday night, pushed many Milan residents to rush to the train station in crowds and attempt to leave the region, causing what many later considered a dangerous wave of contagion toward the south.
To clarify the issue, the interior ministry issued “auto-certification” forms that would allow people to travel in and out of the locked-down area for work, health or “other” necessities.
But by then, some experts say, it was already too late.
Italy is still paying the price of those early mixed messages by scientists and politicians. The staggering number of recent deaths — more than 2,300 in the last four days — are of people infected during the confusion of a week or two ago.
Roberto Burioni, a prominent virologist at the San Raffaele University in Milan, said that people had felt safe to go about their usual routines and he attributed the spike in cases last week to “that behavior.”
On Friday, Mr. Fontana complained that the 114 troops the government deployed were insignificant, and that at least 1,000 should be sent. He said in an interview that the government needed to stop messing around and “apply rigid measures.”
His political ally, Luca Zaia, the president of the Veneto region, pre-empted the national government with his own crackdown, and said that Rome needed to enforce “a more drastic isolation,” including closing all stores and prohibiting public activities other than commuting to work.
Mr. Zaia has some credibility on the issue. As new infections have proliferated around the country, they have significantly dropped in Vò, a town of about 3,000 people that was one of the first quarantined and which had the country’s first coronavirus death.
Some government experts attributed that turnaround to the strict quarantine that had been in place for two weeks. But Mr. Zaia had also ordered blanket tests there, in defiance of international scientific guidelines and the national government. The government has argued that testing people without symptoms is a drain on resources.
This content was originally published here.